Original 1980 Paul Schrader film american gigolo was a big part of its time, a film noir set in a world where Studio 54 was still operating, and a story about a prostitute involved in a murder plot wasn’t that common. David Hollander from Ray Donovan adapted this film for a new series, with Jon Bernthal playing the role of Julian Kaye. Can late 70s-early 80s black work in 2022?
Opening shot: “2006.” A close-up of the profile of a dazed man sitting in a holding cell. A police detective enters and approaches.
The essential: Julian Kaye (Jon Bernthal) is there because he was discovered by the police in bed with the body of one of his clients, his blood all over him. It’s a gigolo, aimed at high-level – and often magnificent – clients. Detective Sunday (Rosie O’Donnell) is convinced he did and doesn’t believe him when he says he doesn’t remember what happened. So she persuades him to confess so he won’t be sentenced to life in prison.
Fifteen years later, Julian has seemed to make his time in prison worthwhile, but is shocked when he is summoned to meet the detective. Sunday again. She personally tells him that a hitman on his deathbed admitted to the murder, so he’s a free man. He first returns to the trailer where he grew up, when he was still known as Johnny. A flashback to young Johnny (Gabriel LaBelle) shows the moment his mother sold him to a woman named Olga (Sandrine Holt), who drove a Rolls and dragged all her employees to her lavish Los Angeles home.
He also reminisces about when he met Michelle Stratton (Gretchen Mol), who was married to a tech entrepreneur (Leland Orser). They fell in love with each other, anyway, and he returns to her house to make sure she’s okay. She has her own issues, namely the fact that her husband seems to treat their 15-year-old son (note the age) like a prisoner, due to his fondness for adult guardians.
He then returns to his friend Lorenzo (Wayne Brady), who helped him get his bearings when he went to work for Olga. He doesn’t want to go back to the life of a high-priced hooker, but when Sunday comes up to him and tells him that the hitman blurted out the word “Keene” when she asked him who hired him, he knew. what it was. meant: “Queen”, the nickname that Isabelle (Lizzie Brocheré), the daughter of Olga, who is now very grown up, gave herself.
What shows will this remind you of? The plot of this new version of american gigolo is similar to the original 1980 film, written and directed by Paul Schrader and starring Richard Gere. Timelines have increased and the murder plot is more focused on what happens after Julian is exonerated, but the feel of both is the same. David Hollander, who developed the series, even uses Blondie’s “Call Me” in the first episode.
Our opinion : This new version of american gigolo boasts some pretty compelling performances, especially from Bernthal, who at once personifies the man who reveled in his work, despite the tragic way he got into it. In an intimate moment with Michelle, he says he’s good at putting on the clothes and being the charmer who fulfills his client’s fantasies, but the real him is more uncertain of himself, and this dichotomy is apparent in his performance.
In fact, there are good performances throughout this remake. The problem comes with its plot; there doesn’t seem to be enough to cover an eight-episode miniseries. Essentially, Julian will return to the sex trade game in order to find out who framed him for this murder fifteen years prior. But if the twisty first episode is any indication, there will be plenty of flashbacks, plenty of navel-gazing, and plenty of fluff that get in the way of the show’s central mystery.
While the idea is that suspects will abound, from Olga to Michelle’s husband Richard to Lorenzo, there’s potential for plenty of red herrings and messy plots. At this point, we don’t know if Julian is focusing all of his attention on Isabelle or if this is also misdirection on the part of Hollander and his writers. The fact that the real reason for the show’s existence wasn’t worked out until the final ten minutes of the first episode, however, isn’t a good sign of what we’re going to see in the future.
Perhaps the episodes produced after Hollander was ousted from the show due to misconduct accusations are better. But we won’t be here to find out.
Sex and skin: Julian is a sex worker, so if it weren’t for the sex and nudity scenes, you’d think something was wrong.
Farewell shot: When Julian goes to see Olga, he finds that she is crippled. Isabelle is in charge now, and she demands that he strip down and show her what he’s got.
Sleeping Star: Almost 20 years after appearing in a classic Chappelle show sketches, it looks like Brady needed another role that went against his impeccable image. He walks out the door with F-bombs and self-descriptions about the size of his manhood, and for some reason it doesn’t seem as shocking as it should.
The most pilot line: Michelle pushes Julian away when he comes to see her, and she says, “He’s going to do it again. He will do it again for all of us! It’s a pretty awkward foreshadowing there.
Our call: SKIP. Despite the performance of the first episode, this remake of american gigolo just doesn’t have enough going on to warrant an 8 episode run, and it’ll probably get really boring and frustrating before it gets interesting.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comQuick